Category Archives: Ephemera

A Day to Remember

 

John Adams considered our independence a moment for all time. All the celebrations we enjoy this day can be traced to this letter sent to his wife shortly after the vote was held.

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells,Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not. (The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family, 1762-1784, Harvard University Press, 1975, 142).

Founding brothers

50 years after the momentous day, Jefferson still had strong feelings for the cause and the day. He was comforted knowing Americans continued celebrating the day.

” I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made….For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.” 

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Custer’s Luck

Progressives, Liberals, and American Indian activists hail this day… as a cathartic moment in North American history.  It is the day the United States received its comeuppance, and the golden boy of American expansion and jingoism was cut down and exposed for the fraud he truly was.  Despite the best efforts of historians to contextualize it, the emotional and irrational interpretations of Little Bighorn prevail.

Yet Custer endures… A generation of revisionist history, bad analogies to Vietnam, worse movies, and even accusations of genocide have only had minimal effect on our fascination with the son of the morning star.  Custeriana is as strong as ever in American remembrance.  Something about him; his Civil War heroics and meteoric rise, contrasted with his frontier exploits and catastrophic demise, Americans hold a place in our story for him.

The mystery of his final battle… is responsible for much of the enduring memory.  His wife’s Herculean efforts to memorializing the bravery of her husband also played a role.  But there is more to the Custer attraction that speaks to the history of the American mind.  We were a people struggling to settle a vast and dangerous frontier, Custer was the heroic image and protector of American ideals.  We are drawn to military service and martial pageantry, Custer struck the perfect image of dashing cavalier on horseback.  We push aside the inglorious reality of the  defeat of Custer and his men and focus our remembrance on the hours leading to it- the dashing cavalry leader at the head of his column, face hardened by the prairie winds and dust, eyes sharp as a hawk.  Much of it is attributable to the Custer mythology, but what historical figures are immune from such myth-making?

He lives on

Was Custer a villain? Does he represent the evils of American expansion?… Such histrionics sell books, inspire ambitious filmmakers, and rouse the irritable activists; but little understanding is actually achieved.  Custer was an ambitious military officer who saw the Plains Wars as an avenue to personal advancement.  But, he was also a frontiersman who sympathized with the plight of a complex foe.  He was a soldier fighting a complex war few people adequately understood, himself included.  Yet, Custer lives on.  He lives on in our memory, exactly where we can imagine him; trotting at head of the 7th Cavalry, wind whipping through his long hair,  the airs of “Garry Owen” whistling over the plains.   Remembrance is not history, but the American mind needs both.

 

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Old Glory

Proper flag etiquette is often misstated… lost in urban legends, misinformation, and simple ignorance.  Here are some of the highlights set down by the official government handbook on flag etiquette.

  • The flag is never to be lowered in deference to another person or country- only if on a ship saluting a ship from another country.
  • The flag should never be used as clothing, bedding, curtains, or decoration-  bunting is used for these purposes
  • The flag must never be displayed in a manner that could lead to it being damaged-  like flying it in a thunderstorm
  • Flags can be cleaned and repaired when necessary
  • No additional marks, symbols, lettering, or images can be displayed on a flag- only military designations
  • Only when a flag has become damaged beyond repair should it be burned- ceremonies are held every year on June 14
  • Flags touching the ground DO NOT have to  be destroyed- this is a sign of disrespect, not a reason to destroy a flag
  • Flags must always be allowed to fall freely-  only the flag used during the alleged moon landing is exempted
  • The flag should be properly folded before it is stored
  • Proper flags should not be used for advertising or displayed on commercial products
  • Flags are only displayed upside-down in extreme distress – not like bad Tommy Lee Jones movies

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Ol’ Rough ‘n’ Ready

General Zachary Taylor was playing it cool… during the campaign of 1848.  Both political parties of the day were seeking his candidacy, but he was not willing to commit;

“It is to me a matter of perfect indifference whether I am even elected [as president] or not. I do not intend any party shall use me as a convenience; if dropped I intend to stand aloof, & let Whigs and Democrats [use] this matter in their own way….”

I believe in slavery, maybe...

I believe in slavery, maybe…

A substantial slave owner and southerner… Taylor was expected to support the slave owning interests in the Democratic party.  Again, Taylor was playing the pragmatist…even hinting at support of the Wilmot Proviso(banning slavery in the Mexican Cession.)   Taylor’s political views were at best ambivalent, at worst, an utter mystery.

“The Wilmot Proviso will shake that body to its center…but I hope some compromise will be entered into between the two parties slavery & anti slavery which will have the effect of allay[ing] violent passions on both sides, which will have the effect of perpetuating…or shortening the Union….”

Taylor

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The Verdict

Great men with larger-than-life personalities … do not always make the best Presidents.  Too much of their focus is directed inward, and the needs of the electorate are overlooked (see Jackson.)  Consistency is required when dealing with momentous issues.

In the right place at the right time

James Knox Polk was the right man… in the right place, at the right time.  He was not flashy, brilliant, cagy, or diabolical as many have charged.  Polk was steady, determined, erudite, and conscientious; some might even call him boring.  His presence demanded respect, but did not inspire awe.  He possessed a keen mind and was an excellent administrator.  Simply put, he got things done, with nearly no regard for his own legacy.

For too long revisionists in academia… have kept the real Polk from us.  Hopefully this blogger has been able to shed new light on an important figure long shrouded by academic misdeeds.  Polk now sits comfortably in the top ten lists of most Presidential historians…where he belongs.


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Americans to Americans

Robert E. Lee chose General John B. Gordon… to officially surrender the Army of Northern Virginia to the Union on April 12, 1865.  Gordon was an amateur soldier who proved to be the consummate warrior.  Through the course of the conflict Gordon was badly wounded seven times, with five minnie balls hitting him at the battle of Antietam in 1862.  Lee often praised Gordon’s actions in battle,  “characterized by splendid audacity.”

True citizen soldier

US Grant selected General Joshua L. Chamberlain… to accept the Confederate surrender.  Chamberlain was a college professor (of rhetoric) who enlisted in the 20th Maine Vols. He served with distinction from Fredericksburg to Petersburg, winning the Medal of Honor for his defense of Little Round Top during the Gettysburg campaign.  Chamberlain was wounded six times (nearly dying at Petersburg in 1864)  and cited for bravery four times during his service.

Soul of a Lion

As Gordon led the Confederate army past… the Army of the Potomac, Chamberlain ordered the men to “Carry Arms”, the snap of the leather and metal signaled a marching salute.  Gordon, surprised by the gesture, ordered the Confederates to respond.   Chamberlain described Gordon’s performance, “At the sound of that machine like snap of arms, however, General Gordon started, caught in a moment its significance, and instantly assumed the finest attitude of a soldier. He wheeled his horse facing me, touching him gently with the spur, so that the animal slightly reared, and as he wheeled, horse and rider made one motion, the horse’s head swung down with a graceful bow, and General Gordon dropped his sword point to his toe in salutation.”    Gordon truly understood the significance of the gesture, “Chamberlain called his men into line and as the Confederate soldiers marched in front of them, the veterans in blue gave a soldierly salute to those vanquished heroes—a token of respect from Americans to Americans.”

Americans to Americans

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The Johnson Treatment at Work

LBJ worked closely with civil rights leaders… despite attempts of late to portray him as a vile racist.  The Johnson treatment always started with a cause Johnson cared deeply about. More than Kennedy imagined, his successor pressed for equal rights- forcing the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in less than 100 days.

Consulting with MLK in 1964

Consulting with MLK in 1964

 

Johnson always kept his house in order… Arguably the most powerful and effective Majority leader in the history of the US Senate, no one rallied the troops like LBJ.

Schooling the Jr. Senator from Massachucetts in 1957

Schooling the Jr. Senator from Massachusetts in 1957

 

Twisting arms was sport to Johnson… and he never shied away from confrontation.  His battles with conservative Southern Democrats were some of the nastiest in the political records- LBJ usually got his way….

Crushing civil rights opponent Richard Russell of Georgia.

Crushing civil rights opponent Richard Russell of Georgia.

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